Week 4 Word: BANE
Word Count 494
Cure for the Bane of Being Plain
By B.A. Sarvey
“Petite” has a connotation of attractiveness. Fairy-like grace.
No one ever called Wren petite. Slight, (substitute ‘insignificant’) or small, the “plain” part tactfully left unsaid. Wren’s mother had hoped her child would be like the wren that serenaded her during her pregnancy. Wren found the strident repetition of notes annoying; would have preferred being Patience or Hope. She had plenty of those.
Wren was small, but unlike the tiny, brown bird, she sang offensively off-key, and no perkiness counteracted her plainness. She was awkward—socially, physically. So, timid Wren learned to shelter. Her walled garden and her books became her world Her arms had never stretched upward, allowing her to soar into the vast possibilities of life.
Still, the actual, the physical act of flying was something she secretly, paradoxically, longed for. And now, it was possible, thanks to one of her monthly forays into that used book store on Bleeker Street—the one she had sidled into during a rare outing years ago: a hodge-podge of dusty tomes doomed to topple with the slightest disturbance. Strategically placed chairs (complete with scowling cat) and an unexpected maze of alleyways made it inviting. Safe. Shelves rose to the ceiling, and the proprietor reached the top via a rickety ladder. Wren had fallen in love.
The book in question was purchased on a whim. A witch’s herbal, it contained lore about useful plants. Finely detailed drawings accompanied each description. Art and plants. How could she go wrong? Snug in an unobtrusive corner of the shop, Wren had perused the slim volume, coveted the handmade look and feel of the binding, hesitated at the price. Perhaps another time. Reluctantly, she made ready to close the book. One more page…. And the image virtually flew out. What a stately plant! Tall, proud. “Hyos…Hyoscy…Hyoscyamus niger,” the words tripped out. “Henbane.” She left the shop twenty dollars poorer, feeling infinitely richer.
Henbane hadn’t been difficult to aquire. Many greenhouses offered it. Cousin to potatoes and tomatoes, but also to mandrake and belladonna, it was to be treated with respect. Waiting for the biennial’s second season made her tingle with impatience. When the plant rose, majestic, towering above the pansies and coreopsis in her garden, leaves larger than her shoe, she knew it had been worth the care. One plant would keep her flying for months.
Flight! Finally. But how much henbane? The herbal was vague. Too little— nothing would happen. Too much—she might die. The toxic dose was unknown, according to modern sources. Still, what did she have to lose?
The pale green leaf, just one for starters, chopped, mixed with lettuce, cucumber, mint, drowned with tangy honey mustard dressing, prickled her tongue, nearly nauseated her. Hesitantly, then hastily, she consumed the entire salad.
Wren’s heartbeat quickened. A flush crept up her neck, her cheeks. She concentrated on feeling weightless. Saw her fingers become feathers. Couldn’t feel her lips. Struggled for breath. Reeled. Released the Earth.
Radiant, Wren flew.